This week’s teacher guest post comes from Chloe Walker, University of Edinburgh graduate and Shenzhen public school teacher.
Here, Chloe recounts her favourite weekend travels in China..
Xiamen is a second-tier city in the province of Fujian, in the south-east of China. Despite not being a popular tourist destination with foreigners, Xiamen is exceptionally beloved by Chinese tourists, thanks to its tropical weather and gorgeous beaches. I was invited to Xiamen by a university friend, who welcomed me into his hometown and showed me why this city should be up there on tourist guides along with Beijing and Shanghai. Seriously, this city has become my favourite city in China, for good reason.
The high-speed train from Shenzhen North to Xiamen North takes 4.5 hours, going as fast as 300km p/h. I treated myself to first-class tickets for my first weekend trip from Shenzhen because the price difference was only £5. Leaving after my final class on Friday afternoon, I arrived in Xiamen in perfect time for dinner; the famous Xiamen noodles and spicy snails you suck out of their shell (sounds gross but is actually very satisfying).
Over the next two days, I was herded around all the sights by my friend. My favourite site had to be Gulangyu Island, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, accessed by a scenic 20-minute ferry ride from downtown Xiamen. The island, nicknamed ‘Piano Island’ because of its high number of (you guessed it) pianos, is a pedestrian island where you can spend a full day wandering around, eating fresh local food, shopping and relaxing on the palm tree lined beaches. Other highlights include the art district, pedestrian shopping street, Hai De Lao hot pot restaurant, the viewpoint from Xiamen’s ‘Twin Towers’ and Xiamen Bay.
Although I had a friend to help me get around in Xiamen, it’s obvious that without a tour guide, Xiamen is the perfect city for a solo trip. Easy and convenient public transport, friendly locals and a great tourist environment make it the perfect place for a weekend trip in South China.
So, technically my trip to Beijing was a long-weekend-trip, Thursday to Sunday. I think there’s an expectation that you need at least a week in Beijing to make the most of it, but I found that 4 days was the perfect amount of time to spend in the capital (especially since it was 0 degrees and I’m now accustomed to the heat of South China). The flight took 3.5 hours from Shenzhen – crazy that you can fly North for 3 hours and still be in the same country. China.
In the span of 4 days, I’d exhausted my list of to-dos; the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, eat Peking duck, Wudadying Hutong, 798 Art District, and finally The Great Wall. I chose to leave the Great Wall for my final day and booked a group tour through Trip (an essential app for travelling in China) to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, a 2 hour drive from downtown Beijing. I could not recommend this part of the wall enough, as when I went in November it was basically empty. I opted to take the open chair-lift up to the wall, then toboggan down (SO. MUCH. FUN).
I have no doubt that I will look back on that day for years to come, as it was something I have dreamed of for years. As the old Chinese saying goes, ‘He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man’ 不到长城非好汉. For me, climbing the Great Wall represented the difficulties I had overcome to get there, and that was a powerful moment for me.
Guangzhou is a 40-minute trip on the high-speed train from Shenzhen. Known for being China’s third-biggest city, Guangzhou has plenty of things to offer for a weekend trip. Arriving at 10am on Saturday morning, a few friends and I set about seeing as much as possible in the short time we had. Over two days we visited the South China Botanical Gardens, cruised down the Pearl River on a boat, marvelled at the incredible Canton Tower, ate famous Hai De Lao hot pot, tried traditional Cantonese dim sum, cycled down the Pearl River, spent time at the Cathedral of Sacred Heart and walked the streets of European-inspired Shamian Island.
Despite being so close to Shenzhen, Guangzhou feels like a world away; skyscrapers are replaced by older, more traditional buildings, local people primarily speak Cantonese instead Mandarin, and the environment feels more like what I expected from China. Shenzhen is such a new city it’s difficult to see traditional Chinese culture, but only 40-minutes away is a metropolis of history and tradition. I would definitely recommend Guangzhou for anyone living in Shenzhen who is craving an escape from tier 1 city life.
Xichong is on the far East of Shenzhen, a small peninsula facing the South China sea. Despite being in Shenzhen, this town is somewhat difficult to travel to. To get there, I had to take the metro as far East as possible, switch onto a 1.5 hour long bus, then switch again to a local bus for 30 minutes. However, the journey was worth it for the gorgeous sea views and the quaint little seaside town I spent the weekend in with my friends. We rented a cheap apartment near the beach, which became our base for a relaxing weekend at the beach.
Xichong beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Shenzhen, with blue water and white sand, and is considerably less busy than other beaches in Shenzhen due to its isolated location. A weekend trip here is a good way to relax; swimming in the sea, walking around the little seaside towns and eating seafood – away from the hustle of city life. There’s even a popular coastal walk from Xichong to Dongchong, which takes roughly 5 hours but has stunning views. We attempted to walk this route, but for unknown reasons the path had been closed that weekend. I would recommend visiting Xichong in the spring or autumn, as these are outside of peak season which means comfortable temperatures and less crowds.
Inspired by Chloe’s travels? Learn more about the 2020 Teach China Graduate Program.